Sunday, September 4th, 2016, Pope Francis held a Mass service where he publicly declared Mother Teresa a Saint, and canonized her. The ceremony was held with over 100,000 people in St. Peter’s Square. Without going into much of the history of Mother Teresa or Catholic Sainthood, you may not be aware of what this means. Furthermore I want to ask, ‘Is this idea of declaring people ‘Saints,’ and canonizing them even a Biblical teaching? What should a Christian make of all this?
Let me say at the start of this, I am not a Roman Catholic. I do not believe that the Roman Catholic system is a Biblical based church. I furthermore believe the whole premise upon which Roman Catholic doctrine stands is not Biblically defensible (concept of a Pope, Purgatory, Mass system to name a few). I do not wish to be personally offensive to any Roman Catholic. I only wish to draw attention this notion of canonizing Saints. My prayer is that it will spur some thought provoking consideration by Catholics, and to inform any non-Catholics who are not sure of this idea. Now that I have showed my cards, let me dive into just some shallow water of the Mother Teresa Sainthood story.
According to the official Roman Catholic website about this idea, canonizing Saints has been around since the 10th Century. The Vatican and Pope took over the canonizing of Saints because of too many myths and lies that began to circulate among the populous.
What does it mean to be a Saint in the Catholic church? First, the person has to already be deceased, and have been considered a very holy Catholic. Then an investigation into the person’s life, work, and doctrinal orthodoxy is conducted by local Bishops. Then a council of Theologians at the Vatican evaluate the Bishops findings for approval. Once approved, it goes to the Pope who declares the person, ‘venerable.’
After all of this, there must be evidence that this deceased Catholic ‘venerable’ has produced at least one miracle. This then leads to the Pope declaring the person to ‘beatification’ (or Blessed). Let me quote from the Catholic website how the next and final phase of ‘Canonization’ occurs. “Only after one more miracle will the pope canonize the saint (this includes martyrs as well). The title of saint tells us that the person lived a holy life, is in heaven, and is to be honored by the universal Church. Canonization does not “make” a person a saint; it recognizes what God has already done” (http://www.catholic.org/saints/faq.php).
Theologically and practically, here are the ramifications of this:
Canonization is held to confer a sevenfold honour: (1) the name is inscribed in the catalogue of saints, i.e. public recognition is enjoined; (2) the new saint is invoked in the public prayers of the Church; (3) churches may be dedicated to God in the saint’s memory; (4) the Mass and Office are publicly offered to God in the saint’s honour; (5) festival days are celebrated in the saint’s memory; (6) pictorial representations are made in which the saint is surrounded by a heavenly light of glory; (7) the saint’s relics are enclosed in precious vessels and publicly honoured.
Now, having laid this summary out of the canonization of someone to a saint, what is a Christian supposed to make of this? Should we rejoice along with this? No.
The idea of a Christian being able to invoke an already deceased Christian, no matter holy they lived, into their prayers and go to this deceased Christian for intercession is simply not Biblical. Furthermore there are no instances in the Bible of a Christian ever praying to or invoking the name of a previously deceased Christian. We do not see Stephen in Acts chapter seven praying to John the Baptist to help him during his stoning. We do not see Peter praying to Elijah to help him heal the crippled man at the Temple in Acts chapter three. There are many examples I could invoke, but what they have in common is that they called upon the name of Jesus.
The Biblical evidence to support that a Christian who lived an utmost holy life can perform miracles post-mortem is nowhere to be found. Likewise there is no Biblical evidence to support the idea that a living Christian invokes the name of a deceased Christian in their prayers.
So this idea of canonizing saints in the Church is not Biblical. It is extra-Biblical. This is where the Roman Catholic system begins to show its true colors. Most of major tenants of doctrine are just like this one we are discussing, extra-Biblical. The Roman Catholic system has other beliefs that allow for them to hold views that are outside of the contexts of Scripture. In short, they go to previous Church Council decisions for support, and the decrees of Popes.
Does the Bible not have the notion of ‘Saints’ within its verses? Of course it does. In the New American Standard Version of the Bible, the word ‘saints’ occurs in 61 verses in the New Testament. It is always used in reference to Christians. In fact 99.9% of the time, living Christians. There are 2 verses I found that refer to saints in heaven or future saints that are martyred.
What is the take away from this? If you are a true Christian, by being a born-again believer in Jesus Christ, congratulations you are a saint! Does this mean we are practically perfect and can perform miracles? No. The word means, ‘holy ones.’ If you are in Christ, then your position before God Almighty has went from sinner deserving death, to one of God’s holy ones (a saint). God, and God alone declares who are saints. Not a church or a person leading a church organization. God declares who are saints as those who are bought by the blood of His Son, Jesus the Christ.
 The Oxford dictionary of the Christian Church. 2005 (F. L. Cross & E. A. Livingstone, Ed.) (3rd ed. rev.) (283). Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.